The Mountain West Conference was first.
The Big Ten threw its hat into the ring next.
Now the Pac-10 is mulling it over.
For major college athletic conferences, it seems not having your own cable network is akin to being the only kid in high school without an iPhone.
Even the SEC has its own pseudo-network with ESPN.
In a recent interview with newsobserver.com 's Ken Tysiac, when asked about a possible ACC network similar to the Big Ten's, Jim Swofford stated coyly, "That's something we look at, and due diligence would have us [look at] that. Whether that becomes a reality is a little too early to see at this point in time."
In some circles, the idea of a joint ACC/Pac-10 Network has been bandied about, although that rumor's legs seem to be very unstable.
Let us stop for a moment and clarify something before we get ahead of ourselves.
A conference owning a cable channel is not an easy deal. The Mountain West's "The Mountain" channel, which is owned by Comcast, is seen in about three households—nationwide. In most regions, you cannot even get the "Mountain" from your cable provider, if you want it in the first place.
The Mountain West Conference is now discussing possible expansion scenarios, which might add to the appeal of their network, meaning more demand for their product by cable subscribers.
As for the Big Ten Network—which is owned by FOX—lengthy negotiations with cable providers Comcast and Charter seemed to dampen the initial excitement of the network going live, but that all appears to be water under the bridge at this point.
Further, it is a widely accepted belief that the entire reason for potential Big Ten expansion is to expand the Big Ten Network into more lucrative television markets for a premium price.
So what point am I trying to make in all of this?
Conferences owning their own channels to sell and promote their brand is not the wave of the future, rather it is the wave of the present, and no conference wants to be left behind.
In the conference expansion dash for teams, no conference seems more vulnerable to being pilfered than does the Big East. Still, it is always interesting how the nation wants to proclaim the Big East in a negative light, yet when a conference wants to expand its strength and appeal, the first place they come calling is the Big East.
Which brings me to my point: Why not have a Big East Channel?
If you think about it, it makes sense, considering the Big East has 16 teams and thus 16 television markets to sell its product. More schools mean more opportunities for original and live programming to offer viewers. And unlike the Big Ten or Pac-10, the Big East already has 16 teams and would not have to expand to generate market interest by increasing its conference footprint.
In its present form, the Big East could offer 14 of the top 100 markets as part of its geographic footprint to cable providers, and that doesn't include smaller markets within each school's vicinity outside the top 100.
Each year several Big East football and basketball games go untelevised, or are relegated to regional or ESPN 360 online broadcasts. Those games would be the prime targets for airing live on the Big East Channel. ESPN/ABC can continue to show the handful of cherry-picked Big East games they are contracted for each year, but those left over could become showcase events in prime-time slots for the conference on its own network.
Further, several Big East schools participate in sports that are not part of the Big East Conference. For example, West Virginia University participates in NCAA sanctioned wrestling, gymnastics, and rifle leagues. When WVU hosts events in those respective sports, the Big East could cover them as well, even though they are not direct conference affiliated activities.
Other schools throughout the Big East participate in athletic competition in leagues not recognized by, or affiliated with the Big East, and could likewise be shown on the network when hosted at a Big East member site, adding to the already large list of potential live events and programming the conference could provide.
The conference would not have to ask premium prices for their channel, which led to the conflicts between the Big Ten and various cable providers. The Big East schools already operate on budgets well below what Big Ten schools typically operate under, and do so with much less incoming revenue.
So essentially, any reasonable offer by cable companies to carry the Big East channel would be most likely accepted without much fight by the Big East, assuming of course the reasonable offer covers expenses and generates revenue for conference members.
If the conference one day decides to expand its membership, whether solely in football, or by bringing in additional full-time members in all sports, it would add to the potential market share and geographic footprint in which the Big East could sell its brand.
The potential financial security and stability a cable channel could add to the conference—and take special note of the word potential here, as everything has to be done correctly for it to work—would be immeasurable. If successful enough, it could lead to prevention of future members leaving the conference for theoretical greener pastures.
The main sticking point would most likely be the cost of starting up the network from scratch, in which case it might be cheaper and easier to try purchasing an existing regional channel to make over into a Big East network, or negotiate with said channel about the possibility of rebranding itself with Big East programming as the new Big East channel.
In the aforementioned newsobserver.com interview with Jim Swofford, the ACC President eluded to the possibility of the ACC exploring the option of working with an existing channel or network that might be interested in rebranding itself as an ACC network, should the ACC decide to pursue having its own station.
For the Big East, making overtures to FOX Sports about its regional Pittsburgh station might be a way to proceed if the decision is made to pursue starting a network. The FOX Pittsburgh station obviously sits in prime Big East country with the University of Pittsburgh in its backyard, and is a reasonable commute to most of the remaining Big East schools not located in Florida.
Whether FOX wants to play ball or not is up for debate, and as is always debatable, the ability to be forward thinking and proactive by the leaders of the Big East to the point of creating a network for its members is anyone’s guess.
Whether it pans out or not, we will have to wait and see, but it is an intriguing concept, nonetheless. I, for one, would welcome it, but that is just my opinion.